Consciousness is composed of non-consciousness

The components of a thing are not individually the thing.

For example, the components of the chair I type most of my blog posts from are not the chair itself, but the wood of the frame, the springs for the back and bottom, some metal parts for the reclining mechanism, the fabric coverings, cushions, etc.  None of these things by themselves are the chair.  Only together do they make a chair.  (Although you could point to a subset of the assemblage and perhaps still call it a chair, such as the chair without the armrests.  But that sub-assemblage would still be composed of constituents that are not the chair.)

Traffic is composed of a number of vehicles on the road at the same time.  But the road itself isn’t traffic.  Neither are the cars, or the drivers, or the traffic lights, or any accidents.  But together, they make up what we collectively call “traffic.”

A human society is composed of individual people.  No person by themselves make up a society.  It requires multiple people.  (I don’t know if two people would count as a society, but I’m pretty sure one person wouldn’t.)

Of course, these are fairly banal examples.  But there are others where the relationship between the whole and its parts might become more difficult to accept.

Consider life.  Complex animals such as humans are composed of organs, which are composed of cells, all of which are alive.  But a cell is composed of molecular machinery that is not, by itself, alive.  And that machinery is itself composed of molecules which simply behave according to the laws of chemistry and electricity.  In other words, life is composed of non-life.

Years ago, when I was reading about morality, I remember learning about the meta-ethical debate on whether morality eventually reduces to non-moral facts.  If you see moral rules as having some sort of platonic objectivity, then you might say no, that moral rules only reduce to themselves.  But if you see those rules as arising from nature, society, culture, etc, then the answer would probably be yes.

In physics, the laws of thermodynamics are often said to emerge out of the movement and speed of particles.  In other words, the components of thermodynamics are not thermodynamics, but the mechanics of particles.

Quantum physics seems to show that classical physics is composed of entities that are not themselves part of classical physics.  Whatever is happening with wave-particle duality, it doesn’t appear to obey classical laws.  Indeed, the classical laws appear to emerge from quantum mechanics.

This is one reason why I’m leery of signing on to any one interpretation of quantum physics.  It seems like many of the interpretations attempt to understand quantum mechanics in classical terms, with each interpretation sacrificing a different aspect of the classical understanding of reality to preserve a more cherished aspect.  But if quantum mechanics represent, in essence, the components that make up the classical world, this could ultimately prove to be a hopeless endeavor.  (Or it might not, I’m not really committed to either viewpoint.)  Quantum mechanics might ultimately simply have to be accepted on its own terms, not in terms of any metaphor or analogy to translate into everyday terms.

This is also why I’m usually skeptical of using reason and logic, built on patterns and mechanics as they exist in our universe, to extrapolate about the origins of the universe, or about other universes.  Granted, it’s not like we have much choice for this kind of reasoning, since we are part of this universe and it is everything we’ve ever known.  But this seems like an area where our confidence shouldn’t be high.  There doesn’t seem to be any reason to assume that the components or origins of the universe must behave according to how things work within the universe.

Another area where it seems like people are extremely resistant to accepting this principle is minds, particularly consciousness.  But if the mind exists as a system in this universe, and I think the evidence pretty strongly points in that direction, then that means that a mind is ultimately composed of constituents that are not themselves a mind, that aren’t cognition.  This is definitely true for anyone who accepts the computational theory of mind, but it seems like it would be true for any materialistic theory of mind.

This means that consciousness itself must ultimately be composed of things that are not themselves conscious.  It seems like the hard problem, which troubles many people is, in essence, resistance to this idea, an insistence that consciousness, whatever it is, must remain whole, indivisible.  If that is your attitude, then the hard problem, how this indivisible thing arises from a physical system that is itself divisible, would indeed seem like a major problem.

I also think this is why notions like panpsychism often arise.  Panpscyhism seems like a way to reconcile this divide.  It isn’t that consciousness is composed of non-conscious constituents, but that everything is consciousness to one degree or another, and human consciousness is simply the sum total of all the consciousness of its components.

But it seems like this assumption, that consciousness is indivisible, is one we should scrutinize.  Why would it be immune from the relationship of just about every other whole to its constituents?  What is different about it?  At least aside from it being our most primal experience of things?

Vision and hearing processing centers of the brain.  Image credit: Selket via Wikipedia

Vision and hearing processing centers of the brain. Image credit: Selket via Wikipedia

It seems like if consciousness were truly indivisible, we’d see that reflected in brain damaged patients.  Either a person would retain consciousness or they wouldn’t.  But it appears that it is possible, with disorders of consciousness, to have varying degrees of it.  And there are a number of cases where a person retains some aspects of consciousness, but not others.

For example, patients with a condition known as hemispatial neglect, lose the ability to perceive one side of the world.  To be clear, it isn’t so much that they can’t see that side, but that that particular side of the world becomes inconceivable to them.  Other conditions, referred to as agnosia, can render a patient unable to recognize faces, sounds, or in general process a number of sensory perceptions.

All of which seems to strengthen the case that consciousness is not immune from the general principle that things are ultimately composed of constituents that are not that thing, that consciousness is divisible, ultimately composed of non-conscious constituents.

Unless, of course, I’m missing something?

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63 Responses to Consciousness is composed of non-consciousness

  1. Steve Ruis says:

    Nope, you are spot on … so far. Thanks! The more rational voices, the better. (Is that a moral principle?)

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Tom W. says:

    Ah… Aristotle’s ol’ “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” idea… Hmmm. While it doesn’t sit well with me and I’m not yet ready to ascribe some kind of ‘specialness’ to a whole, it does have an appeal to it. I just don’t see what it should be ‘greater than’ and not merely ‘equal’. I realize this instant that that’s probably not what you said (nope, re-reading, you definitely didn’t say that). OK, let’s go with “The whole is /different/ from its parts” – now /that/ I’m far more inclined to agree with. Here’s my take on it: the whole is /not/ (merely) the sum-of-its-parts – indeed the whole isn’t whole unless the ‘parts distinction’ Goes Away (i.e. I think we cannot simultaneously conceive of a whole as a whole and a whole as a sum-of-parts). To take your example of a chair – it isn’t a chair when you’re even considering ‘just the arm rest’. You’re intentionally (though you may not realize it) ‘letting go’ of the ‘whole chair’ in order to consider ‘only the arm rest’. This in a sort of ‘bird-in-the-hand is worth two in the bush’ kind of way. To have one you must lose the other and vice-versa.
    To subscribe to the panpsychic idea where:
    “It isn’t that consciousness is composed of non-conscious constituents, but that everything is consciousness to one degree or another, and human consciousness is simply the sum total of all the consciousness of its components.” (how do you quote in the comments box btw? And bold or italics? BBCode?)
    I think is a mistake akin to ascribing to the arm-rest of your chair ‘chairness to one degree or another’, or saying that the pages of a book are ‘bookness to one degree or another’. So ‘call a spade a spade’ and avoid panpsychism. There is a ‘reason’ things have names – they were named because they are distinctive. That is, when the distinction is ‘relevant’ (i.e. rising to the fore), we give it a name. Otherwise, when it is not distinctive, the masse-of-indistinct-parts is given another name.
    I dunno, I’m just improvising this right here – but once again, thank you Mike for an excellent thought-piece.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Tom. Yeah, I thought about putting in a couple of paragraphs to make it clear I wasn’t writing about synergy or emergence, but it seemed difficult to do so without having to explain what those were, so I opted to just not mention them. (Although in the case of emergence, I suppose you could call what I was describing as “weak emergence”.)

      I think you’re totally right that a definition that doesn’t excludes things (such as the various broad definitions of “consciousness” often used by panpsychist) tends to drain the utility out of the word in question. As I noted in my panpsychist post, it only shifts the question from trying to understand consciousness to trying to understand human and animal consciousness.

      Improvise away! It’s most of what I do here anyway 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom W. says:

        There’s another thing you didn’t mention (but I kept expecting to see it in the next paragraph – like when you’re expecting to collide with someone when rounding a blind corner!): The Sorties Problem (I won’t call it a Paradox, though some do). Kinda plays-up here ‘at what point is a chair a chair?’ or… maybe not?
        Interestingly, the problem you’re addressing is (in a way) the same one I struggled with in my attempt at ‘set theory 2.0’ – in the latter part where I kinda botched my explanation of the ‘Domain of Discourse’ (which, by now I have a much clearer grasp of what I was actually trying to say – may be worth a follow-up ‘clean-up’ post later). The idea I mention above – how a whole is ‘not’ the sum-of-parts – would be the situation I describe of ‘keeping the set S on the outside’ so that you can ‘consider the subsets of S’… it’s this alternation of the ‘whole’ for the ‘sum-of-parts’ thing where you have to let go of one to have access to the other, and vice-versa… So in effect you’re not really ‘losing’ anything, you’re just putting it to the side in a manner of speaking. “Consciousness” is the ‘collective term’ for a sub-set of, like you say, ‘not’ Conscious phenomena – and themselves being collective terms for other phenomena (unique patterns of neural activity?)
        Ooh, an idea is germinating: What if these sub-Conscious (ick… sorry, didn’t mean that!) these non-conscious phenomena, attributed to unique neural patterns were ‘grouped’ in different areas of the brain because the naturally ‘efficient’ way of keeping like-wired sets of neural phenomenal is if they’re not-too-drastically-different from one another? Hrm. I mean to say, what if the ‘visual cortex’ (for example) was where it was because visual processing has unique, but similar neural patterns – and that biologically speaking it’s more ‘efficient’ (least costly energy-wise) to have them close neighbours? And since drastically-different-patterns (i.e. what we would qualify as completely different neural functions, like the auditory or motor functions) necessarily had to be physically located elsewhere, again, with similar functions biologically ‘grouped’ in proximity?
        Ech… I must be tired. Sorry if none of that made any sense – it did to me, but that’s not interesting 😛
        Ok, g’night and thanks for the food-for-thought!

        Liked by 2 people

        • “which, by now I have a much clearer grasp of what I was actually trying to say”
          I’ve often noticed that after I’ve made a post and the resulting discussion, I can then think of much better ways to make my point, and wish I could have thought of them when writing the post. Since I almost always eventually revisit subjects I’m interested in, I usually just try to remember the better wording for then.

          The question about neural specialization is an interesting one, and a complicated one. From what I’ve read, the answer involves understanding that the brain operates a several layers. At the sub-thalamic layers, I think there is specialization, qualitative differences between the neural circuity. I think the same thing about the thalamus and its connections with the amygdala, hippocampus, etc. But when we start talking about the neocortex, my understanding is that a region’s specialization is mostly about what connects to it.

          Indeed, I’ve come to think of the neocortex as essentially an expansion substrate for the thalamus. Connections radiate out from the thalamus in all direction to the neocortex substrate. What each part of the neocortex works on seems to be about which nucleus in the thalamus connects to it.

          That said, I’m still learning about all this stuff, and it’s quite possible I currently hold misconceptions.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. john zande says:

    Very well said, indeed. I’m in this boat 100%.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. rgbuzz says:

    I’m not sure how the brain damage patient is supposed to relate to panpsychism. For the panpsychist, everything consists in a physical component and a phenomenal component. So a thermometer may be conscious in terms of their being something that it is like to be a thermometer. It just probably isn’t very interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I didn’t mean to imply that brain damage necessarily related to panpsychism, just that those cases seem to undermine one of the possible motivations for panpsychism: reconciling neural data with the strong intuition that consciousness is indivisible.

      I have a hard time envisaging that it is like anything to be a thermometer. It’s missing too many of the attributes that would trigger my sense of agency detection. (Assuming we’re talking about a traditional mercury thermometer.) Of course, this may simply be chauvinism on my part against a consciousness very different from my own. But since I think consciousness is largely in the eye of the beholder, it might be inevitable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • rgbuzz says:

        But I have a hard time envisaging what it is like to be a bat, to navigate via echolocation.

        A thermometer will be more conscious than a stone, for a thermometer can detect information and respond accordingly and consistently. Still that’s a pretty minimal consciousness, and it is hard to imagine what that would be like. Just as it is hard to imagine what it would be like to be a bat.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Perhaps, but a bat interacts with its environment, appears to have memory, and has goal oriented behavior. Most importantly for triggering our intuition of consciousness, in its goals, those of something alive, we recognize shared impulses and desires. We can’t currently know if a bat has any inner experience, whether it models its own internal state, but the shared experience that we can recognize in it seems to make it easier to imagine that it does, that it is in some important ways, a system like ones we are.

          For a thermometer, maybe you could stretch the fact that the mercury goes up or down based on temperature to say it interacts with its environment, but it would be a very simple interaction, and I can’t see that any of the other factors noted above are present. If a human or animal only reacted to the environment in the limited manner that a thermometer does, I think we’d likely conclude that some injury had left them in a vegetative or similarly diminished state, that their consciousness had been snuffed out.

          Liked by 1 person

          • rgbuzz says:

            The thermometer interacts with its environment. It can even be argued that it is goal directed. And not all ostensibly conscious things need to have memory.

            I find it no easier to imagine what it would be like to echolocate than it would be like to “thermomate”. I suspect the former is more interesting than the latter.

            If a person what vegetative except for the peculiar fact that they spouted out precisely accurate room temperature readings every 30mins we wouldn’t say that he has no consciousness whatsoever. Just that he only has a little consciousness, or even is perhaps only conscious of one thing, namely room temperature.

            If anything, it seems like it would be harder to imagine what it would be like to be more complex creatures like bats or snakes, for its such a radically different way of seeing the world. The thermometer doesn’t really even see much of the world at all.

            Liked by 2 people

    • “And not all ostensibly conscious things need to have memory.”
      What would be some examples of entities that are commonly thought of as conscious but that don’t have memories? Just curious.

      “If a person what vegetative except for the peculiar fact that they spouted out precisely accurate room temperature readings every 30mins we wouldn’t say that he has no consciousness whatsoever.”
      True, but in that exact scenario, wouldn’t they be demonstrating a number of capabilities including at least some language comprehension, speech capability, and precise sensory perception?

      A better comparison might be if they had a very consistent reflex reaction with no variations and that was the only behavior they presented. The case of Terri Schiavo comes to mind: a patient that displayed a number of reflex reactions, but never more than that. Medically, she was judged not to be conscious in any meaningful sense. (Of course, her family never really accepted that diagnosis. It’s very difficult to watch videos of her and not project some experience there.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • rgbuzz says:

        “What would be some examples of entities that are commonly thought of as conscious but that don’t have memories? Just curious.” Intuitively, anyone in a fugue state or who had just emerged from one.

        The details of the exact scenario aren’t super relevant. The point is is that we can clearly reduce someone’s “consciousness” (whatever you mean by the term), without saying that they no longer have any consciousness.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting. You just made me look up “fugue state” and I learned something new. Thanks!

          From what I can read, it doesn’t appear that they lose all memory. They seem to retain short term memory, and a lot of procedural memory. It sounds like semantic and episodic memory are the main types affected. Although it sounds like every case is a little different. Interesting stuff.

          Totally agree with your last point.

          Like

  5. I thought you were making the point that chairs/traffic/society are indivisible? Or divisible only up to a certain point until the concept must vanish? (Like two people to make a society, for instance.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s an interesting observation. Chairs, generally, are indivisible, at least into smaller chairs. Traffic and societies are divisible, down to a point, but as you note, eventually the concept of the whole does disappear.

      It depends on whether we’re talking about divisible into smaller things of the same definition, or divisible into components that no longer meet the definition of the whole. Sometimes the former is possible. The latter seems possible to a much further degree, although if reality is ultimately pixelated, eventually even it might be impossible.

      Language :/

      Liked by 3 people

      • The brain’s ability to work to some degree even while damaged suggests something like consciousness divisibility which eventually disappears once you reach a certain point (like two people=society, but one definitely doesn’t…unless that one person has a split personality disorder.) 🙂

        On that note, when you mentioned pixelated reality, I thought of those images that are made up of smaller photos…totally random thought. Have you ever seen those?

        http://petapixel.com/2013/08/25/image-of-earth-made-up-of-1400-photos-of-people-waving-at-the-cassini-satellite/

        That’d be strange if reality were the same. I kind of hope not. Peering into a microcosm and finding a tourist’s boring vacation photo—or video, in motion—could be unsettling. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

        • Cool picture. Not sure if I’d seen one exactly like that before, but I think I’ve seen similar creations.

          I’ve read plenty of old sci-fi stories where atoms or sub-atomic particles turn out to be their own universes. Of course, that might mean that we’re in a sub-atomic particle of another bigger universe, which it turn might be in a sub-atomic particle of an even bigger universe.

          I’ve seen similar speculation from actual theoretical physicists but with black holes.

          Turtles all the way down…and up.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Haha! Yes, turtles up and down.

            Black holes, huh? I should know by now that physicists are weird, but that’s weird on top of weird. Or inside of weird. Or however you want to put it.

            Would make for a good sci-fi. Imagine if each sub-atomic particle is the same universe you’re in, but at a different time. Then you could get time travel in there too. You alter some mini-me and voila, you didn’t eat that second slice of chocolate cake after all! (But then you run into the usual time travel paradoxes…which would all be worked out I’m sure.)

            Liked by 2 people

          • One of the black hole theories posits that our entire universe is actually a hologram that exists on the surface of the event horizon of a black hole. If I recall correctly, this is a theory presented under the auspices of string theory, which appears to be in decline. Strange stuff.

            That’s a cool story idea for the sub-atomic particle universe. You see, you could be a sci-fi author! (You once said in an email that you didn’t think you had the imagination for it.)

            Liked by 1 person

          • Now that black hole theory sounds so sci-fi. It might actually make an interesting premise—using the actual science behind it and taking it further.

            On my imagination…I can come up with the overall scheme, but nailing the details could pose a problem. I’m sure people’d be calling me out on inconsistencies. I have enough of a problem with being consistent in the ordinary world.

            Liked by 1 person

          • “I’m sure people’d be calling me out on inconsistencies.”
            That’s actually a longstanding tradition in science fiction. Larry Niven had college students pointing out to him that his ringworld was unstable (he hand-waved a solution in the sequel). More recently, Andy Weir had scientists of all flavors pointing out to him all the ways his character would have died in ‘The Martian’ from scientific oversights.

            Liked by 1 person

          • That’s exactly what I would expect. I imagine a sci-fi audience would be particularly picky about consistency. If I were to go in that direction, I’d probably do better in the speculative fiction/fantasy area…but even there you have to be consistent with your own rules.

            Liked by 1 person

          • In fantasy, the big thing is “the rules of magic.” You get to define those rules, but then you’re expected to apply them consistently. In truth, this isn’t that different from science fiction. A lot of science fiction is effectively fantasy, leaning heavily on Clarke’s Third Law:”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The advanced technology in these stories pretty much works the same as “the rules of magic.” You get to decide if your universe has warp drive, teleporters, time travel, etc, but once you do, you’re expected to be consistent about it.

            Where I think you can get in trouble in both genres is portraying more mundane stuff wrong, such as treating horses as mindless transportation (without a magical explanation) or having spaceships violate physics (without at least a techno-babble explanation).

            Liked by 1 person

          • I’d definitely fail in the techno-babble area. I’m good at psycho-babble, though. 😉

            Liked by 1 person

  6. taurisstar69 says:

    I think the evidence we have regarding the functioning brain and it’s parts support the notion of a divisible consciousness. I liked your train of reasoning more than many articles on the subject I have read. I found most of the concepts are in line with what I consider my own beliefs as they are not being swayed by sciences effort to make everything fit into it’s dis-functioning box. Even the notion that our consciousness could be one of the smaller parts that make up a whole may seem like blasphemy and yet is still in the realm possibility.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. Group consciousness, if I’m understanding your final sentence correctly, is an interesting question. I do think that cultures and societies essentially have a type of group consciousness. It’s obviously very different from an individual consciousness, but has a number of striking similarities. Ultimately, of course, this comes down to how narrow or broad of a definition of consciousness we want to use.

      Liked by 1 person

      • taurisstar69 says:

        Yes, the group consciousness attained by society is not what I was eluding to. But now that youve mentioned the sorta group consciousness attained by society I will use that to flesh out a good example for quantifying its affect.

        We can look to our sports and the affect of home field advantage. This advantage is caused by clumping people into tightly packed stadiums while they exert alot of energy which is usually directly focused at specific individuals. Players from the home team say they get a burst of energy from the cheering fans. Literally they are parts of a whole consciousness.

        Like

        • I agree. Another thing that comes to mind is the wave that happens in just about any stadium. Being social animals, we get a high from cooperating in group efforts. I think it definitely leads to a cultural and/or societal consciousness. The culture is created by individual human beings, but anyone who has ever read anthropology knows that the culture also has a very heavy role in molding the individual human being.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Hariod Brawn says:

    To me, this hangs on whether or not one is prepared to accept the principle of an objectless awareness – we might term it ‘bald subjectivity’ – which itself is not strictly consciousness insofar as there is no knowledge element to it, just the pure illumination of itself, as itself, and not as an object of consciousness representing itself. Would such a phenomenon necessarily require reflexive brain and nervous system function? Could it be an irreducible, fundamental aspect of the universe that is so closely interwoven into our experience that we never notice it, unless trained to do so? In fact, the mind cannot ‘notice’ it as an object being represented – i.e. as a percept or memory – as it has no attributes to notice or record. When we think of consciousness, we think of phenomena, which are representations, because that’s what consciousness is – it’s not bald subjectivity/objectless awareness; it’s something-ness.

    You’ve previously argued that we can speculate wildly upon anything when I’ve put this before, saying that without evidence for the same, then there is no case to be put or argued against. And yet there is an objectless awareness accessible to the human animal, as many know. As a phenomenologist, Tina rejects this principle, as I know you do too, Mike. What part, then, does brain and nervous system function play in ‘causing’ no phenomena, and the illumination of no phenomena? Is it just the absence of memory – the point you make to RGBuzz? And do you think there is anything to consciousness beyond psychical representations?

    Liked by 3 people

    • “As a phenomenologist, Tina rejects this principle, as I know you do too, Mike.”
      Actually, I’m not entirely sure I do reject it, although I can’t see that it could happen without a brain, nervous system, or some equivalent substrate. Let me paint a couple of scenarios to see if I’m understanding what you’re describing, and if there is maybe common ground here.

      Imagine that an evil scientist removes my brain from my body and puts it in a nutrient vat. He doesn’t allow me any sensory input at all. Would I still be conscious, with no sensory input to drive things? A while back I might have been doubtful. But the brain has pace-setting neurons that ensure the brain is processing, even when it isn’t processing any sensory inputs. So, there’s a reasonable chance I’d still be conscious, with only my memories and dreams for company.

      But suppose the evil scientist did the same thing to a fetus, providing its brain enough nutrients in the vat for it to mature. Would the resulting entity be conscious? They’d have no memories of anything. If they dreamed, what would they dream of? But presumably the pace-setting neurons would still be there. If there is any consciousness there, it seems like it might match the objectless awareness you’re describing.

      Not quite sure what you mean by psychical representations. Is there any consciousness without mental representations of sensory impressions, without input from the world? I don’t know. Given the though experiment above, I could see a case where there might be, but the resulting consciousness seems like it would be profoundly limited and impoverished. (Although it wouldn’t have anything to compare its existence to, so any feeling of impoverishment would have to come from instinctual longings, which in the absence of sensory inputs might be vague and incomplete.)

      Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff says:

      Hariod,

      Can you tell me what you think the difference is between attention and awareness? Is there a difference? Both seem like neutral processes that are not involved with analysis and information modeling yet a necessary element in consciousness for both animals and humans. Don’t forget, animals have awareness which seems like the most basic part of survival and necessary for information processing within their type of consciousness.

      There seems to always be something in our consciousness that wants to divide things and choose from a menu. It is an automatic response that man has developed over thousands of years of informational input. We can only choose what has been put into us and what has been put into us is conditioned through culture/societies. To me, this means that none of the information is unique to us but has been ‘handed down’. I think what you are suggesting is that pure awareness is not affected by information and stands ‘outside’ of this sphere of influence. Am I wrong?

      Whether this is true or not, has and will be argued based on the various beliefs that people subscribe to as well as how it is questioned. One other question that comes up for me is ‘why’ are you pursuing this area? Not that I think it is wrong or unwise, but for what purpose is this investigation for? There is a motive somewhere in this.

      I have strong sympathies to what you put forth but is it just language that I am agreeing or disagreeing with? Is that what all of us are doing in a sense, trying to know what we cannot know?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hariod Brawn says:

        Hi Jeff, and thanks for lending a moment to my meanderings here. As I’ve mentioned to Mike here on his site very recently, the idea of attention without awareness seems illogical to me, as the attending must surely have dual referents, they being what is attended to and what directs the attention – awareness seems the only one that universally fits the latter. In other words, there must (?) be an awareness in regard to something to be attended to in order for it to be attended to. [Mike agreed on this point.] Otherwise, attention is random, and I think we can safely say it can at times be volitional, subject to our will, and there in the case of consciousness along with its trait of awareness. But I do take awareness to be a trait of consciousness and not a full-blown conscious state itself. That means it can run and attend to sensory data in unconsciousness, just as it does when we are awoken by the alarm clock in the morning. In that instance, awareness attended to a sensory stimulus in unconsciousness, and as the stimulus was of sufficient strength it invoked a conscious state of our being awake. All this seems broadly to accord with your first paragraph.

        “I think what you are suggesting is that pure awareness is not affected by information and stands ‘outside’ of this sphere of influence. Am I wrong?” – My conception of awareness is one made only to distinguish a ubiquitous aspect of consciousness, which is its apparent knowingness as distinct from the objects known within conscious states. Analogously, one might say it’s what throws light on those objects, but the light itself is featureless. It’s important to remember that as I conceive of it this isn’t some noun-like, objective ‘thing’ that in any way ‘stands outside’ (your words) of consciousness and its historically conditioned and evolved nature, perhaps as if radiating knowingness (light) upon the objects of consciousness; just that awareness as a trait of consciousness is itself devoid of features.

        If we introspectively reduce experience such that mentation stills, we don’t become unconscious; an awareness remains. Mike argues that this bald awareness (sometimes known as TE – Thoughtless Emptiness) is a psychical representation, or simulation. It may be, but if so then it behaves differently to all other forms of consciousness in that it isn’t susceptible to memory function (it cannot be recalled) and is devoid of all features. It is known because it knows itself, but not (it would seem) as a representation of itself, such as a mood or mental state, which themselves are indeed states of consciousness.

        As to whether something like (my conception of) awareness could be a fundamental aspect of nature and so is not conditioned by the evolution of animal sentience and consciousness then I’ve not the slightest idea, Jeff. There’s no evidence for it as such, but then if we disallow hypotheses unsubstantiated as yet by evidence, then everything seems to grind to a halt in terms of discovery, and we’re also presupposing our ape brains are capable of understanding anything and everything. I suppose I’m a bit of a New Mysterian in that respect, as I rather doubt the human animal’s supposed unlimited powers of cognition. We seem only to be barely scratching the surface of how matter gives rise to experience, and there’s much disagreement over the various formulations of what might be happening ‘behind the scenes’ – and even if the scenes are even there in any real sense. Is (my conception of) awareness biologically conditioned in the way that consciousness is? One can only say probably so, based on what we know; but then we don’t know very much at all, do we?

        You ask why I am pursuing this area (of consciousness etc.), here and at my site. The answer is that I’ve been fascinated by it for decades, and whilst I tend to approach it from a first-person and phenomenal perspective, then I’m also interested in the physical correlates and functional processes, but there, more biased towards how we come to model and be seduced by our constructs of self-entity. Having seen that the human mind can step outside of the subject-object dichotomy in awareness, and how that rather fundamentally changes one’s relationship with thought and its neurotically obsessive habituations, then I can’t help but think there’s some inherent redundancy in how the mind has evolved to date. That redundancy is all to do with our false sense of instantiation as static selves with agency, and how the model of self, having access to cognition – and hence to itself – becomes egoically aware. These are my ‘motivations’ (your word): to try and grasp further why and how this redundancy is there.

        What about your motivations in exploring all of this, Jeff?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jeff says:

          Wow, Hariod. That’s a lot to chew on! Your points are well taken regarding awareness and attention. I also see that somehow will and attention are linked but are essentially two different processes. Will seems linked to desire, but attention is just the noticing of this activity without dualistic notions. In fact, attention may be the key to any observations consciousness and its ensuing processes regarding the mind as we live it. Perhaps attention is what is throwing light on the mentations(borrowed light from awareness)? I suspect all these processes are linked and synergistic in consciousness and as such represent the limit of what consciousness can know. I can’t see how consciousness can know anything but itself.

          TE seems to be what Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen teachings call Rigpa and is said to be one of the qualities of the true nature of mind. Within this awareness which is empty of a self and all dualities, mentations still arise but they are viewed from this non dual point of view and said to be of the same nature as this Rigpa, TE, emptiness. All of this is dealing with appearance, be it self, universe, thought/feeling, sensory stimulation. Just to clarify, TE is not something separate from appearances in the sense that one can find that there are moments of meditative absorption, but these are not permanent states but part of consciousness.

          My motivations to investigate all this was a sense of dissatisfaction in myself and with society at large both in behavior and beliefs. Studying Buddhist teachings and meeting remarkable people gave me a different way in which to look at consciousness and the subjective experience of ‘me’. I am still weeding this garden, but something comes to mind that a remarkable person once wrote, ‘that you can only know what ego and self are after they have fallen away’. I do think they are activities rather than entities. And, all activities are taking place in consciousness. The cessation of these activities leave an enormous amount of room for speculation. Will it be possible for science to discover what these activities are and how to live without them? So far, the only accounts of living without self and ego are from the religious and philosophical schools where these have been discussed and contemplated for a very long time. I would look forward to all of this being taken out of this realm of religion and philosophy and ‘updated’ by some super-quantum-Google science to be functionally made obsolete.

          Let me just apologize to Mike for hijacking this thread in a direction that many may not be able to follow as this line of investigation has been one of the few available to man in his desire to understand herself/himself. Religions and philosophies developed far more extensively their models before science as we know it began to investigate all this. Much of what Mike has brought into this blog has correlations with what seers, sages, yogis, as such, have touched on for millenia, albeit using different languages and models, to describe consciousness and what we are. Something has to unite mankind other than their beliefs, which divide.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Hariod Brawn says:

            Thankyou Jeff, it’s good to get a better grasp of your own perspective and where you’re coming from. I haven’t studied Tibetan Buddhism, and my own interest and practises in that area evolved through Orthodox Indian Buddhism, most specifically so-called ‘dry insight’ meditation, and later a looser, more Zen-style of contemplation. I was never interested in ritual or religious cosmological theory; it just didn’t suit my character.

            I do recognise your statement: “Within this awareness which is empty of a self and all dualities, mentations still arise but they are viewed from this non dual point of view . . .”

            That is difficult to grasp conceptually because, of course, when one thinks of mentation it is invariably conceived of as occurring within the subject-object paradigm that is the mind’s habituated environment, and so there’s always an assumed experiencer of experience, thinker of thoughts, subject apprehending mentative object content, and so on. Nonetheless, if one accepts the conception of awareness as being a pervasive quality of consciousness, yet being featureless in itself and just its own knowing presence of itself, then what you have described starts to make sense to the intellect. The words “point of view” shouldn’t be taken in a literal sense, I’m sure you’ll agree, because there’s no apparent point of centrality in awareness (thus conceived); it’s the senses and consciousness that create the assumed centrality and perspective, and this is very clearly seen in the experience you describe, and as I understand it.

            Like

          • Jeff says:

            Hariod,

            My influences are much more than Buddhist teachings, but the teachings of Longchenpa, whose writings are considered to be the most profound of Dzogchen teachings, which is a teaching that is not really part of the greater ‘Vajrayana’ path as it ultimately eschews all efforts and practices to ‘attain’ Buddha nature. I can send you a pdf of his book, ‘The Great Perfection’. I would think it would speak very directly to you. If you want it, let me know where to email it to.

            I am of the same view as the rest of your post. Language is really a great barrier to discussion about these things. One can never line up all the words in the same manner as another would to make things perfectly intelligible. For me, the element of ‘Being’ is a key to all of this. We all have this sense and allowing it to unfold, illuminates everything necessary for wholeness and unity to be lived.

            Liked by 1 person

          • No apologies necessary Jeff. This is all interesting and relevant.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Hariod Brawn says:

            Thankyou Jeff, that’s really a very kind offer. In fact, I have just downloaded a PDF:

            https://tiblit.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/germano_aartiblit2012_combined.pdf

            I had the briefest scan of it just now and noticed the translation was talking in terms similar to those we’ve been discussing here and at my place previously: e.g. “Does subject-object dualism exist in the mind or not?” and “The fundamental energy of self-presencing awareness” and “the ground is the pure source-potential of spontaneous presence.” [Mike, apologies from me too, this likely sounds quasi-religious nonsense!]

            I don’t read Buddhist or Advaitan texts any longer, Jeff, and my ‘spiritual’ (don’t like the word) bookshelves have rather been gathering dust and cobwebs over this past 15 years or so. On your recommendation, I’ll certainly read the PDF at least though; so thankyou again. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jeff says:

            Hariod,

            Please try this one: http://bookzz.org/s/?q=natural+perfection&yearFrom=&yearTo=&language=&extension=&t=0

            I’ve met the translator and this is the best version I’ve come across. It is nothing like what you’ve downloaded.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jeff says:

            I tried sending you the link to a great translation which has full text and commentary, but I don’t see my post appearing here. I tried sending to your blog, too. Perhaps I don’t have permission to send links. Not sure. The pdf you got is not really what I’m talking about.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Sorry Jeff. The spam folder ate it for some reason. Just fished it out and released it.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Hariod Brawn says:

            Akismet sent you to spam, Jeff. Ah, not being a blogger you may not know what Akismet is: a software utility that comes bundled with WordPress and which filters all comments for spam. I never check the spam folder, so I’m grateful for you mentioning here that you’d sent it to my site. It’s likely in Mike’s spam here too, but I have it so all is well. Thankyou very much indeed Jeff; it’s very kind of you, and I appreciate it greatly. 🙂

            Like

  8. Liam Uber says:

    Good presentation of the argument, as usual. But there is a logical counter position.

    First, you did not define consciousness except you refer to it as a thing that is created when other things come together. A thing from nothing?

    We can recognize consciousness by experience (subjective or ‘self aware patterns’) or by observation, objectively. This second or scientific approach has made great progress: all the facts suggest to me that all living organisms are conscious. Even those negligible bits of life, bacteria, detect their environment and respond to it, sometimes in quite complex ways. There are social and individual behaviors, etc. A more detailed description of this view can be found here: https://johanneslubbe.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/scientistic-perspective-on-everything-consciousness/

    An accurate and complete definition of the concept of consciousness would therefore predetermine our understanding of it. It’s that old question again: what comes first, ontology or epistemology?

    My simplistic intuition is that the universe is conscious and that we are extremely smart but extremely small instantiations of it. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Liam. Good point about defining consciousness. Defining it can be tricky. Define it too broadly, and you end up concluding that almost everything is conscious. Definite it too narrowly, and you might conclude that only humans past a certain age qualify. How you define “consciousness” is basically a philosophical question.

      That said, I think when most people intuitively use the word “consciousness”, they’re referring to an internal experience at least somewhat similar to what adult humans have. That intuition of consciousness is triggered in us by many animals (although not all). I don’t know too many people who intuitively feel that plants, trees, or bacteria are conscious. The problem is that all of this is complicated by our natural inclination to project our own experiences on other entities and things, such as our historical tendency of seeing agency in nature.

      But I think seeing it as a question of how close the internal processes are to those of a human mind helps to clarify the question, and why there probably isn’t a sharp line, since there will be things that are more and things that are less similar to humans, with similarity gradually diminishing the farther away we move. Again, where to draw that line is probably a matter of philosophy.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Liam Uber says:

      Interesting Mike. I see that you are in the camp of those that posit the subjective experience of consciousness as the fundamental aspect of its definition. Our intuition about it.

      I am firmly in the other camp. Consciousness to me is defined by what we can objectively learn about it. I use this information to better understand my subjective self. I hope I’m a better person for it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hmmm. If I’m understanding you correctly (and I may well not be), I don’t think I’d agree that I’m in a subjective camp, unless by “objective” you mean there is one and only one true objective definition of “consciousness.” When it comes to definitions in general, I’m an utter relativist, since definitions are language and language is constantly evolving.

        Part of being objective, it seems to me, is being objective about what you can or cannot be objective about. I’ve never seen a convincing demonstration that we can be objective about things like fundamental values or definitions.

        But if you mean by “subjective” that I think introspection is the authority for understanding consciousness, then I’m decidedly not in that camp. I do think our best path to understanding the human mind will come through neuroscience and empirical psychology, in other words, by what can be objectively established.

        But if you think whether something is or isn’t conscious is a rock solid objective thing, I invite you to check out this post:
        https://selfawarepatterns.com/2016/03/02/are-rocks-conscious/

        Like

  9. Michael says:

    Hi Mike,

    Enjoyed this piece very much– both your straightforward style and the range of topics you touch upon. I join you in being leery of endorsing a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics and then using that to buttress a particular philosophy or worldview. On the other hand, I do marvel at it and think there are interesting patterns contained there.

    I would like to suggest that the argument you’ve offered– suggesting that if consciousness were indivisible then any loss of brain function would result in its winking off– presumes a particular definition of consciousness that is not necessarily an obvious one.

    One might argue, for instance, that our universe is indivisible. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but what I do know is that if it were ever done, what remained after the split would appear, by definition, to those within such split universes, to be equally valid as universes– systems of phenomena wholly complete in and of themselves and isolated from outside influences. If this were not true, then the universe was not split. But if you repeated the process a great, great many times what remained would hardly be considered a universe when compared to where we began. Nevertheless, if we sliced and diced and yielded a universe of one proton in space, were it truly isolated from any outside influences, and were complete in and of itself, it would be a universe. But clearly the properties would be quite different. So what are the properties of a universe?

    (Another way to have this thought experiment is to take one piece of matter out of the universe at a time, until you have one proton. When did it cease to be a universe?)

    What dazzles us about our universe would be, for myself anyway, the production of novelty, the grandeur and majesty, the order and logic, as well as the chaos, and the fact that somehow life reached the point at which it could become aware of all this. And of course the feelings of witnessing this consciously as a human being. A universe with a single proton would hardly pass as a universe by comparison, and yet it would be so.

    I’m going to turn that around a little bit now, and suggest that consciousness and the degree to which and the manner in which consciousness is expressed are two different things. Just as the universe never ceased to be universal when its faculties were theoretically reduced in the exercise above, so consciousness need not be seen as non-existent when its faculties are shrunken, as I will argue below. The devil of this is defining consciousness, and Hariod has rather one me over with his distinction between awareness and consciousness, so let me shift to the word awareness. I suggest that what is fundamental is awareness, which has no more to do with reasoning, memory, logic or language of particular organisms than a universe consisting of a single proton has to do with nebulas, stars and blue whales. But when discussing the existence of awareness, one is faced with a basic choice at the outset: either awareness is the product of unconscious/unaware matter, or matter and the arrangements of matter are the expression of awareness. I suggest there is no logical or rational way to make this determination, but that it must be made. It is impossible to proceed in formulating a theory of consciousness without one or the other.

    Rather than suggesting awareness must not be whole because human beings with brain damage express varying faculties, I would suggest that awareness can be whole and indivisible, but may express through physical matter in an astounding variety of forms and degrees of expression, some of which are intelligent and some of which are not, but in which the nature of those expressions is always limited by the properties or degrees of freedom of the system through which it is expressed. I cannot see any reason in science or philosophy that precludes this from being so, except the choice made at the outset by the practitioner of that science or logic, to take as the starting point the idea that “dumb” physical matter is fundamental, and not the basic awareness of being. This is simply a choice, as I see it, and what is “logical” follows relatively obviously from there.

    I don’t think it is necessarily reasonable to suppose that life is composed of that which is non-living, only that what we call life is likewise expressed in degrees appropriate to the complexity of the system through which it is expressed. Likewise, I would say the same about awareness, which in particular forms of expression yields the complexity of consciousness. So for me, there is only life, and only awareness, and a vast spectrum of expression where conditions are appropriate.

    To take as the starting point that there is no awareness and no life, and that at some point in the dynamics of tiny, tiny things that what we call awareness and life emerge is an equally valid strain of logic I feel. But at the same time this is to define life and awareness altogether differently.

    I think the difference in these two sides of the coin is “the hard problem”, because as I said, it is up to each person to choose which side of the coin to rest upon. Both cannot be correct, but both can present logical interpretations of phenomena once the starting point is determined. This is a very hard problem, indeed!

    (Sorry I got so carried away…)

    Michael

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Michael. Wow, I appreciate your thoughts. It’s always good to find a new person to discuss this kind of stuff with.

      On the universe dividing, it’s interesting to note that something like that will happen. As the universe continues to expand, eventually all galactic clusters will become isolated from each other, becoming a self contained causal system, in effect their own universe. If the Big Rip scenario is the one that turns out correct, dark energy would be strong enough that eventually atoms themselves would be ripped apart, and you would end up with protons (and eventually even quarks) in their own universe.

      On the distinction between consciousness and the manner of its expression, I hope you’re okay if I point out something that might tip the scales a bit. Are you familiar with the split brain experiments? Patients with severe epileptic seizures sometimes can see improvement by having their corpus callosum, the fibers connecting the left and right brain, cut.

      Neuroscientists tested some patients after they had had this procedure and discovered that they effectively had two separate mental experiences. Despite this, they were remarkably functional in day to day activities, with their two hemispheres apparently coordinating their actions (each side of the brain normally controls and receives sensory input from one side of the body), but when senses on each side were isolated, the two separated brain hemispheres were not aware of what the other had experienced.
      http://www.nature.com/news/the-split-brain-a-tale-of-two-halves-1.10213
      (Roger Sperry won a Nobel Prize for these experiments.)

      The key question here for me is, if consciousness is separate from its expression in matter, which side of the brain is that consciousness communicating with in split brain patients? I wonder if it is still one consciousness, why can’t the hemispheres still coordinate with each other?

      I’m always open to alternate explanations, but the one that fits the facts best for me is that consciousness is the experience of a human mind, and awareness itself is the mind’s experience of itself, metacognition, a modelling of its own processing.

      Unless of course I’m missing something.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Michael says:

        A Wow in return, Mike! I am always open to more data points and enjoy the discussion very much. I learn a great deal from exchanges such as these, and love the discovery of new research I did not know about before.

        I can’t be certain of how you interpreted my previous comments but one thing missing perhaps from what I wrote is that what we call human consciousness is in my opinion the marriage of awareness and the physical capabilities of the human form. I don’t mean to imply a complete separation. If the physical form is damaged it makes sense that it will not function in the same way. I think the crux of your point is that if human consciousness is not the product of the physical hardware of the human brain then it should be immune to such an experiment and perhaps able to sustain a marriage of the two sides of the brain regardless of the physical wiring. I wouldn’t disagree with that necessarily given the assumption—at least for certain types or modes of expression of that human consciousness. But it is not my intention to suggest that if awareness is fundamental, that it is not in relationship with the physical form itself. One of the very intriguing aspects of reality to me is that these things cannot be easily teased apart.

        I think I need an analogy or two perhaps, to try and clarify. In the generation of electrical power, no energy is created. Chemical energy may be converted to thermal or mechanical energy, mechanical to electrical, electrical to chemical, etc., etc. To say that energy exists fundamentally, and is neither created nor destroyed, is readily accepted, but it is revealed and expressed only in devices with particular characteristics. If there are any changes to those devices, the forms and the manner in which the energy is expressed will change. But it will not mean the energy has ceased to be. There is a sort of mutual arising, or marriage, between the complexity and potency of energy that is harnessed, and the structure and function of the devices that harness it, and in downstream devices of course there are all sorts of novel ways in which the harnessed energy is dissipated.

        I think in some ways this is analogous to what I am trying to say. In the energy systems of nature, you need both raw stocks of uncreated energy and the appropriately constructed devices to harness it. To apply this analogy, the expression of a complex awareness in form requires a device with the appropriate physical hardware, e.g. the human body, as well as available stocks of awareness to mobilize it. Human consciousness is a specialized form of awareness unique to humans, given our physical hardware, but I don’t think that awareness itself is the byproduct of physical matter per se. To extend the analogy, I don’t think the human body creates awareness, but harnesses it in unique ways. I freely admit the problem with my analogy is the existence of a coupling mechanism between awareness and physical matter, but this mystery is one I wouldn’t say we’ll never discover in the future of science. We certainly won’t if we don’t look for it. And of course I certainly don’t have the answers in toto and one of the joys of discussions like these is realizing where your own thoughts on a subject run dry. I am rapidly approaching this point…

        I would be curious in the patients associated with the research you described if there were effects on memory and/or identity that were noted, and not just effects associated with the way the information derived from physical sensory apparatus was received and processed? Because I also think human consciousness is far from a well-mapped territory. I have personal experience, for instance, with persons who have been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, which involves a shift in identity and even periodic compartmentalization of memory– which I have sadly witnessed directly– but which is not (to the best of my knowledge) rooted in body chemistry or physical brain defects or changes. It is a different and also interesting data point– which also doesn’t prove in my mind one or the other side of the coin. But it is interesting to note that severe emotional trauma can produce “reboots” in identity.

        Having said all of this, my main point is simply to say I don’t think we can know concretely whether awareness is the product of physical matter or not. Human consciousness, perhaps we can agree, does require the particulars of the human form. I would say we know the structure of the human body and of the human brain in particular is a necessary condition for human consciousness, but we cannot say for certain it is a sufficient condition.

        Thanks for being a gracious host and letting me ramble.

        Michael

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks Michael.

          “I would be curious in the patients associated with the research you described if there were effects on memory and/or identity that were noted,”
          The Wikipedia article has some good information along these lines on case studies with the patients.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split-brain
          A few of the patients encountered situations where the two sides of their body sometimes fought with each other, but that was rare. Most of the time the two sides cooperated. Bizarrely, the left hemisphere of the brain, where the language centers reside, often took ownership of the right side’s actions, as though it had been part of the deliberating process.

          Only when the sensory input to each side was isolated was the fact that there were two separate mental experiences evident. Which if you think about it, has astonishing implications. Some of those implications are explored in this recent Aeon article.
          https://aeon.co/ideas/whatever-you-think-you-don-t-necessarily-know-your-own-mind

          On awareness, a couple of questions. Is it something that you think a machine intelligence could ever possess? Or do you think only biological systems could ever interface with it? And how would you say your conception of awareness differs from the traditional conception of the soul? Just curious.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Michael says:

            Hi Mike,

            Thanks for the links. Enjoyed the Aeon article very much and see that it dovetails with some recent discussions at Hariod’s place about being aware of our own decision-making and mental positions on various matters.

            As for awareness, I would say it differs from the soul in the sense that what we call a soul is typically understood to be a particular, and often eternal, instantiation of a being. It is most often thought that a soul is an eternal aspect of a particular person or personality, and that is not what I mean by awareness. I would say that a great many configurations or manifolds of awareness may exist within particular movements of awareness, but the awareness I was trying to describe in my most recent response was not intended to be of a particular nature.

            Regarding the former question, I sometimes think when considering the hypothetical limits of machine intelligence in the context of the awareness I was describing, it is best at the outset to not draw a distinction between machinery and biology. So in the most general sense, the human body is precisely the type of “machine” that could interface with it. We don’t quite know what type of machine it is just yet, and we are continuously advancing our models of understanding—I really like the idea of the body as quantum coherent biology, as in the Rainbow and the Worm, by Mae-Wan Ho—but I don’t think it’s out of the question to suppose we will learn a great deal more as time passes. But in keeping with the essence of your question which I think is about machines that we humans design and build, and prefacing with the qualification that this is extremely suppositional, I would not presuppose that a machine intelligence interfacing with this awareness is out of the question. But I do think that the machine that does so may be very different from the sorts of artificial intelligence we are researching today– perhaps not what we could a machine at all– and I don’t entirely know what it would look like. I think it would likely require a paradigm shift in our thinking to achieve this, and that we would have to ask different types questions.

            Michael

            Liked by 2 people

        • Hi Michael,
          I appreciate your clarifications.

          Interestingly, it occurs to me that our views may have some unexpected similarities. I see awareness as information, information collected by a subsystem in the brain. (The information itself is a summary model of some aspects of the uncentralized and parallel processing going on in the brain.) How is this in anyway similar to your view?

          You mentioned seeing awareness as something that is conserved, similar to energy. Another thing that physicists are convinced is conserved is information. Current physics stipulates that information is essentially never lost. (It may be hopelessly impractical to recollect it, but it never leaves the universe.)

          I’m not a platonist, but at least one mathematical platonist often visits here. He’d say that this information (like all information) exists independently of its physical instantiation.

          In other words, this information view of awareness could, from a certain perspective, might be seen as the same as your view. I’m probably missing some difference here, but thought I’d mention it for your consideration.

          On AI and awareness, I’d agree that we’re a ways off from achieving it. With Moore’s Law starting to peter out, it might be farther off in the future than many assume.

          Liked by 2 people

  10. Gemma Gorey says:

    I really enjoyed reading this – I’ve just started a blog which I hope to cover similar questions (I’ve only done one post so far so nothing much worth reading yet!). There is something that really appeals to me about panpsychism. It makes everything neat. Although it’s not something I say out loud with my neuroscience background! So if it is true that the parts themselves aren’t conscious but the whole sum is, then would it be fair to say that if you went into a teleportation device, it would be likely that you may still come out as yourself? Whereas if everything had a little bit of consciousness then when you came out of the transporter you would be made of a different “collective consciousness” from the different raw materials and not be the same “collective consciousness” of yourself as you are now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Gemma, and welcome to blogging! Don’t forget to add your blog URL to your WordPress profile so your name links to it whenever you comment on other people’s blogs.

      I can see the appeal of panpsychism, but to me it seems like it just replaces the question of what separates conscious systems from non-conscious systems with a new question of what separates human or animal consciousness from the consciousness of things like trees, rivers, storm systems, or protons. If we rephrase the question to: what distinguishes the behavior of animals from the behaviors of other natural phenomena, we’ve removed the ability to just answer “consciousness”, but the core question seems to remain.

      The distinction you make about the teleportation scenario is interesting. Panpsychism’s effect on that question had never occurred to me. But it raises an interesting question about panpsychism. Is the consciousness of any proton distinct from the consciousness of any other proton? Or any one atom distinct from another atom of the same element? Or molecules of the same type? If all their mechanisms work exactly the same, can they be considered different? (Other than the difference of their physical location.)

      Looking forward to our future conversations!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gemma Gorey says:

        Thanks for the tip 🙂 I’ll amend my profile in a bit. I was listening to a podcast about pretty much this same thing earlier today! So if a particle has consciousness, if is bumbling about on on its own, then combines with another particle is the consciousness additive? Which one “takes the lead” or do they combine? Imagine being that particle with your own conscious energy and having to then share and combine that with another particle. And if that were the case then large objects with more particles would be more conscious than smaller ones, eg a mountain is more conscious than a human, which is rubbish. It can’t be down to the matter either, – a person who was alive a second ago and is now dead has the same make up however one is conscious and one isn’t!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Good questions. I think a lot of this gets into why I find panpsychism unsatisfactory as an explanation for consciousness. The key question is, what exactly is consciousness? There is no shortage of putative answers. If Guiuli Tononi’s information integration theory is a full description of consciousness, then we may be stuck with panpsychism.

          But my favorite theories are the metacognitive ones, which posit that consciousness is an information processing system that models its own state and uses that model as one of its inputs. Michael Graziano’s attention schema theory currently strikes me as an excellent example of this type of theory.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. amiweirdblog says:

    2 + 2 does not equal 4

    Like

  12. amiweirdblog says:

    I mean this in the sense that I agree with what you’re saying. The laws of chemistry in particular (quite different from maths) demonstrate that 2 of the same thing combined by means of macroscopic factors such as heat, pressure etc can create something different.
    Human consciousness, or thought is perhaps an example of an irrational outcome resulting from chemical reaction

    Liked by 1 person

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